It was an RAC Derby that had West Coast fans on the edge of their couch seats, and star Andrew Gaff says the Eagles’ 11th-consecutive win over Fremantle in an empty Optus Stadium “set the standard” for the team’s future performances.
Despite the goal-for-goal inception, the Eagles managed to triumph over the in-form Dockers, a positive outcome considering the loss of backline stalwarts in Shannon Hurn, Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern.
Prolific midfielder Gaff had one of his best performances of the year, racking up 35 disposals, six marks and a tackle.
But it was first-time Glendinning-Allan medallist Tim Kelly who topped the charts, with 42 disposals, nine tackles, 13 clearances and five inside 50 entrances.
Dom Sheed (29 disposals, five marks, three tackles) and Jack Redden (29, five, three) were also hungry in the contest, assisting the Eagles’ engine room in providing repeat inside 50 entries.
“It’s amazing how much better Mondays are when you put out a performance like we did,” Gaff told Sportsday WA.
“We’ve set the standard for each other now and the rest of the group, we have to start replicating that on the road but we did what we could yesterday against a Freo team that’s really up and about.
“We know that Freo are really strong, their midfield is probably their strength to the entire side, (Nat) Fyfe, (David) Mundy and (Andrew) Brayshaw are having a really good year, (Caleb) Serong and those guys as well.”
The dominant 59-point victory was a sweetener for the Eagles, after coming off the heaviest loss in Adam Simpson’s coaching career.
The side fell to Geelong at GHMBA Stadium a week beforehand by 97 points.
“We were under no illusion that we had to do a lot better first of all than we did against Geelong, but we know we’re playing against a quality midfield so we had to perform well there,” Gaff said.
“It’s a good reminder of the ups and downs of footy this year, we’ve had one win and then a loss and that’s pretty much gone through all seven rounds of our start to the season.
“So we need to build that consistency, and that starts again with Hawthorn at the ‘G on Sunday.”
With an injury cloud still looming, the side will likely focus on further youth development in the upcoming match against Hawthorn.
One young gun showing encouraging signs is Jarrod Brander, who worked his way into the Derby before finishing with two goals, nine marks and two tackles.
“No doubt he started a little bit slowly, but to a young guy’s credit, to dig in and fight back and finish with two goals, I think I underestimate his speed and strength in the air, which is a very valuable asset to our team and our midfield,” Gaff explained.
“Whether he plays in the midfield or up forward, but really happy to see him play well on a big stage like that.
“And it isn’t easy for young guys, to have a bad moment or a bad quarter, to toss it in and say ‘it’s not your day’.
“I guess that’s the mental side of footy these days, games go for so long you can’t afford to dwell on bad moments or bad quarters, and you can make the rest of the game a winner for you.”
Jamaine Jones is another youngster rising rapidly through the ranks, after a career-best performance with the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.
The speedy forward finishing with 21 disposals, three marks, three tackles, five inside 50s and two goals.
Small forward Jamie Cripps was right alongside Jones, making a weighty impact on the turf with 19 disposals, five marks, four tackles and two goals.
“They’re guys that work really hard for the whole year, but without the supply or without the consistency of ball inside 50,” Gaff said.
“It’s very hard for those guys to get a good run at it, you’re relying on a lot of stuff happening up the field and blokes using you well.
“And I think the way we played and the sustainability of the way we played, getting in there regularly good delivery inside 50 it really helps those guys out.
“I think their work rate went up a notch, which is the game across the board, the whole 22 guys, and it’s great to see those guys get a bit of reward in a position where you can go a few weeks without much happening.”